When we are not sure of why "high value" species die, we naturally want to know why. The rhino carcass on that day was a classic example of this.
If a carcass is seen or reported, the first duty is to remove the horn. The way we see it, if we don't remove the horn, then somebody else will. The same action will happen if an elephant carcass is found - the tusks are taken away almost immediately.
Rangers and members of our Veterinary Wildlife Services (VWS) got to the scene and it was not readily apparent what had caused the rhino to die. There were also no tracks or signs of other human activity and the horn was still intact so that ruled out poaching.
The other cause for concern was disease. Now this is why samples of various parts of the rhino would have been taken. Some diseases are found in glands, others are found in bone marrow and various other parts of the body. Most of these body parts are sent away (usually to Onderstepoort in Pretoria) for extensive testing. In effect, the vets were doing a post mortem on the carcass (only, with wildlife medicine, you cannot do a pm in a controlled environment like a theatre so we are more or less forced to do it in the open!).
Regarding the pm and the various tests done, I am sure the veterinary surgeon members of the forum will be able to expand on this.
Predators had already stripped away large portions of the body by the time our people had got there so it was difficult to ascertain what had caused the heart to stop pumping, but the other samples were taken and are currently being tested.
But it is our strong opinion (even at this early stage) that the rhino was involved in a fight, probably for territory or females with another rhino bull. These fights often end in death for one of the combatants and there were a few tell-tale scrapes and gashes on the carcass which indicate some sort of a struggle. Although we consider this as a "natural cause", we are getting more and more reports of this as the rhino population in the south steadily gets larger and bull territories start "bumping" each other.
The hands-on solution is to either move rhinos north (as we have done - often) or to other reserves (either our own, eg Marakele, Mapungubwe etc, or auction them off to other game farms).
I hope this explains why our staff were there and what they were doing.
Incidentally, Laine, you are incredibly lucky to have sighted black rhino. My black rhino sightings are few and far between and I know it doesn't happen every day. A colleague and friend of mine - a camp duty manager from Mopani - who has worked in the KNP for about 15-odd years, only saw her first black rhino last year!